Slate readers on Mozart, Brahms, Jackson Pollock, and other tastes that took some acquiring.
The most direct kinds of experiences readers shared concerned works that first put them off and then settled in. “Jackson Pollock,” wrote one reader. “Never had any time for him or abstract expressionism, which I studied a lot of in university. It all seemed so pointless.” Then he happened on a biography of Pollock that filled in some of the dimensions behind those writhing surfaces, including “the dimensions of his struggle.” That did the trick: “From there it has been a delight.” He returned to one Pollock show five times.
It takes time, sometimes. But now and then the revelation of an artist’s greatness is quick and simple: “After pretty much ignoring chamber music for much of my classical music listening life,” writes David Beattie, “I fell in love with it one Sunday afternoon” when he heard Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 132. “I hadn’t realized that all the emotional power and pain of a Mahler Symphony could be packed into a string quartet. What was even more powerful was watching the players themselves. I was close enough to see the expressions on their faces, hear their breathing, appreciate the flawless integration of the performance. … It’s one thing (and a grand thing) to appreciate the pure music, it’s another great thing to see the factory floor, to marvel how it all comes together.”
There’s all kinds of love, the easy kind and the hard-won kind, the ones you didn’t expect, the ones you resisted, the ones that blindsided you. Readers wrote in about their passions for F. Scott Fitzgerald, for Bach and Bob Dylan, and explained why they find Van Gogh scary. Mostly it was about love. All varieties of love help make life worth living, and in contrast to some varieties, artworks don’t criticize your driving or ask for a divorce. I remember a woman who called in to a radio show I was on concerning Brahms. “I’m 90 years old and blind,” she said, “But I play the piano and I still have a life in Brahms.” Art is just as big or as small as you are, and it loves you exactly as much, and as long, as you love it.